A blog post by Nicole Lovas, Front End Developer
Since It’s been only a year since I finished school, I still remember all too clearly how terrible studying felt. The monotony, the confusion, the pressure! I was a very hardcore student, so I had a few tricks up my sleeve when it came to getting my work done and studying. Hopefully with these tips I can help ease some of the pain, at least a little bit.
As a disclaimer I want to add that these are tips that helped me improve my study skills, but they might not necessarily work for you. If other tricks work better for you, then that’s great! By sharing these tips I hope to offer a different way to look at studying.
Where you study matters
It’s a psychologically backed idea that studying somewhere similar to where you’re going to be tested will help give your brain contextual cues that will aid in long-term memory recollection. For example, if you’re studying in a quiet library among other students with desks laid out similar to an exam hall, your brain will be more capable of recalling information from that study session in a real exam environment.
Make studying interactive!
You can stay focused longer if you are actively participating in studying. Instead of reading passively, write down information that you need to remember, it can help “write” the information into your brain! You have to think about what you’re writing when you write, so it’s easier to stay focused on your studies. Other great ways to make studying more interactive can be explaining the subject to someone else, making flash cards, doing practise questions, and creating your own questions from the material.
But what if I get distracted?
You want to study, but can’t stop thinking about how you want to bake a cake tomorrow, but you’ll need to buy some flour...do you have enough eggs? How should you decorate it?
If there’s something on your mind and that you can’t stop thinking about, write it down. That way, you’ll be able to remember it and deal with it after your study session. You can jot down a shopping list, make a reminder to check the fridge for eggs, and doodle a couple decoration ideas. It will be much easier to study knowing that you’ve accounted for your distracted thoughts instead of letting them cycle through your head over and over.
I also highly recommend these apps to help you stay focused and spend less time on Facebook.
Forest is a mobile app and safari extension that grows trees while you work. If you leave the app while a tree is growing, it will die. You can earn coins from staying focused, which can unlock more tree species, or even be used to plant real-life trees.
StayFocusd is a Google Chrome extension that has several flexible options to help keep you focused. You can set a list of blocked websites and set how long you can visit them per day. You can also set a list of allowed websites. The coolest feature of StayFocusd is the Nuclear option. If you activate the Nuclear option, it will block websites according to your settings for X hours and as the extension puts it, “there is no way to cancel this once you activate it.”
Making the Material Easier to Digest
Speak with your Professor or TA
Sometimes you look at your notes from class and can’t make any sense of the material. Fortunately, your professor is there to help you. Speaking with your professor in person is the best way to clear the confusion, but sending an email or posting on the class forum can also be an effective way to get the help you need. This can save you a lot of headaches and time that you could be spending studying something else.
Make condensed notes -- before exam season
The best way to study better is to give yourself more time to understand the material. Don’t wait for a big exam to come along to start getting ready.
Like I mentioned before, rewriting the material can help you understand the topic better. It can also help you with future study sessions! If you take the time to rewrite your class notes in a way that helps you understand them, you can use these personalized notes to study with for future exams. This also takes a lot of pressure off during exam season because you have already looked over your notes at least once.
Break it down into to-do lists
Studying can be very daunting, so breaking it down into easier to accomplish pieces is helpful. Checking something off the list also feels amazing! Having a list of material to cover keeps you organized and on-track for getting all of your studying done. Just remember to be realistic about what you can achieve. Give yourself some room for the chance of something taking longer than you anticipated.
Trick your brain with color
In a study, 60% of readers could recall color advertisements compared with 29% who could recall black and white ads You should definitely use color in your study notes. You don’t need to necessarily color-code them (but it’s great if you do!), the presence of color helps catch your eye and improve your focus and overall memory of the material better.
Trick your brain with BIG font
I don’t know if this is a psychology trick or not, but it’s a trick that I like to use. When I rewrote my notes, I’d write with nice big letters. When I see large font on a piece of paper, I can think, ‘hey, that’s not very much to cover’ and trick my brain into reading it. A huge paragraph of tiny font can feel daunting, but making only a few words per page feels less so. Even if there are more pages to cover, using huge font made studying feel less intimidating for me.
Take Care of Your Mind
Feeling worn out? Take a break! Burnout is terrible for both your mental health and your ability to study, so make sure you take breaks. When you return to your material with a relaxed brain, you might even gain a new understanding of your studies (that definitely has happened to me before).
Sleep on it!
Sometimes when you’re studying it can feel like every second counts. But taking time to sleep can be just as critical to passing an exam as cramming in a couple more hours. While we sleep, our brains take the information that we took in during the day and stores it as long-term memories. Resting up can help you remember the facts you’ve worked so hard to learn.
What if you can’t sleep?
Worried about not being able to sleep the night before a big exam? It’s reassuring that resting your body and getting even a tiny amount of sleep can still improve your performance, as demonstrated by the Mythbusters. The Mythbusters tested the effects of sleep deprivation on their mental and physical performances in an obstacle course. They achieved perfect scores on the course when fully rested, but also attempted it at 30 hours without sleep. Their scores were drastically lower than when they were well rested. They then added short naps every 6 hours to their 30 hours of wakefulness. The result? Their scores on the obstacle course were more than double the score they had from when they had no sleep at all. So laying in bed and only getting a little bit of rest can be more beneficial for you than not trying to sleep at all.
Relax, you are not alone in exam season stress. All of your peers are under the same pressure that you are. It’s also important to remember that you are worth more than your grades. You have characteristics with value that an exam cannot cover. No matter what happens in an exam, know that you did your best and that even a failed exam is not the end of the world.
I hope these tips helped improve your study skills even a little bit. Remember to do what works best for you to ensure that you can stay focused and cover the material. Also, don’t forget to take care of yourself when you study by keeping yourself hydrated and nourished! Best of luck studying for your exams, finishing your work, or getting done whatever you’re working on that needs to get done!